In the earlier days, not long after social media giants had captured the world's attention, millennials and businesses were still exploring their way in the new social environment. Millennials got busy posting about their life in general, and companies shared their latest offers, discount programs to their communities. In communication terms, the focus was on posting, i.e., speaking, and not really on listening. But the world of social media soon transformed into a platform just like conventional media.
Corporate houses didn't just use them to engage with their communities; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the likes became a world in their own where individuals and businesses started interacting seamlessly. People began sharing their feedback, and companies began listening to them to improve their services. So, what exactly is this social Listening?
"A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is, it is what consumers tell each other it is."
What is Social Listening?
In clinical terms, Social Listening is the process of tracking conversations centred around your brand, competitors, or industry as a whole and analyzing these conversations to gain actionable insights. The same can be done for individuals such as personalities, actors, singers, etc.
It is different from monitoring which has been around for a while now. Monitoring tells you what, whereas Listening provides you insights that can be put to action on the ground. A restaurant chain replying to unsatisfied customers on social media is achieved through monitoring but analyzing data on these customers to unravel which dish on the menu is responsible for the most unpleasant feedback and the geographic region home to those kinds of feedback, that is listening.
But is that the end of the story? Indeed not; if you can find and dig deep into lousy feedback, you can also find a lot about your audience. Listening gives you an idea of whom you're catering to? And there's more, and you get to know what industry-related topics your audience speaks the most about, which trends they hop onto, what they genuinely want, and how you can enhance their experience, i.e., customer journey and communicate effectively.
Value of Social Listening
In terms of competitive advantage, Listening provides not just one but five key metrics. These metrics are essential irrespective of the nature or size of any business:
1. Brand health
Many listening tools are available, and some of these have a built-in feature that directly shows you your brand health. If not, you can always track your brand as a keyword for social and web mentions. Almost all of these tools have a built-in feature called Sentiment Analysis. It shows the positive, negative and neutral mix of the comments. Any Brand Manager can make a fair guess about their brand health with the help of this data.
2. Competitor analysis
A significant feature of any social listening tool is competitor analysis. Here you can add your competitors to get their social media posts and campaign notifications. Knowing what your competitor is doing is always crucial when talking about industry-related topics and trending themes. It gives you an idea about the tone of the conversation and what more can be added to the same.
3. Audience insights
Maybe the most crucial aspect of social Listening. You are introduced to your audience; you get to know where they live.
Which social platform are they most active on, whether their posts skew more towards positive sentiment or are it the other way around, who are the influencers in our audience who can be approached to spread our ideas, and which topics resonate the most with our audience. Audience Insights cover all this.
4. Event/campaign monitoring
Stumbled upon an outstanding campaign, most of the tools are equipped with a see first or favourites section where you can regularly check updates for a trending campaign. You can also track your campaigns and monitor them for actionable insights and leads.
Listening for SaaS-based Businesses
The B2B Marketplace, especially the SaaS (Software as a Service) sector, can benefit from Social Listening. There is a misconception about Social Listening amongst many B2B brands who consider it a black hole in terms of ROI; we'll make sure to deliver the facts so that you don't feel the same. If we talk about the key metrics discussed earlier, much value is left to be unearthed here.
These days, customers and critics aren't shy to call out bad experiences on social platforms; if left unchecked, they can quickly become a concern which is particularly painful for any B2B brand's reputation. It would help if you looked out for the competition too, which can try social poaching to get a slice from your pie.
Social is here to stay, and the rising trend of companies socially engaging their audience isn't going anywhere shortly. So, why not get a head start by paying some close attention?
Moreover, Listening isn't just about talking to your existing customers or audience; it's about finding new ones as well.
Find people who are talking about the same topics as you are, find people who are following the same conversations as you are, find people who are interacting with the same type of content as you are because it'll take a lot less effort to convert them to a promising lead.
And lastly, not just listen better but engage better too. Focus on the tone, what competitors talk about, and the line between business language and personal touch. This analysis will help set up better social media campaigns and posts which rank higher on the relevancy scale.
How do 'YOU' go about Social Listening?
At first, Listening might seem a bit heavy to handle. But it gets a lot easier if you have a clear idea about your requirements, your expectations from Social Listening concerning performance. There are always business-specific needs, but some general ones could be better to start the story; why not take a look at ours when we first started:
- Track keywords/competitors across social and web channels. (Social and Web listening)
- Historical mentions. (past conversations)
- Ability to engage in web and social posts from the tool itself.
- Ability to publish and automate postings.
- The device should track a healthy number of mentions; not all topics/keywords will be shared in nature.
- A healthy mix of social and web comments.
We tried many tools before making our final selection. Most of these come with an option of free trial run such as Mention, Hootsuite, Sprout Social, BuzzSumo, Keyhole, Awario, etc.
We evaluated tools according to how well they fulfilled our requirements and whether they were easy to set up and operate. The following is a comparison between different tools:
Every listening tool is unique on its own. Tracking of mentions, channels available, nature of reports, etc., actually changes from tool to tool. Even the initial setup and procedure for integration with official social accounts differ sometimes.
1. Demo vs. paid Listening
Listening is a premium feature that is not always available in the unpaid version. Social Media Management Tools such as Sprout Social have Listening as a paid/add-on feature. But their marketing/sales team will always be happy to give you a demonstration of the same.
Moreover, some tools are only built on listening; the story becomes a lot predictable in Mention, Keyhole, Awario, etc. You can get hands-on experience of using Listening in the unpaid version alone.
2. Setting up alerts/keywords
Most of the tools available track mentions using keywords that you provide. Albeit, you may find limitations on the number of keywords allowed or a mention count limit which is not uncommon. The catch is to find the one which provides relevant mentions at a lower cost. These limitations are primarily present in starter packs, and for a good majority, you won't find such limits or restrictions in the professional or enterprise plan.
3. Cost comparison
Tools may vary significantly in terms of prices. For instance, the starter pack of Mention costs around $29/month. You get only two alerts, 3000 mentions, and only one team member can access. Similarly, Awario's starter pack costs the same, i.e., $29/month, but you get three alerts, 30k mentions, and three members of your team get to access the tool.
4. Mention mix
You'll soon find that any listening tool is excellent at capturing Twitter Mentions. Around 80% of the mentions can be from Twitter alone in the initial runs, but the same results are not there for other social channels. This is because Twitter has minor API restrictions, but the same cannot be said for others such as Facebook. But still, from the available lot only, you need to find the tool that delivers the best mix of mentions from the available lot.
5. Non-social or web mentions
There are only a handful of tools out there that provide non-social or web mentions. It's not a deal-breaker, but if you are an SEO Manager looking to beef up your rankings on Google SERP, then it might be one. Web mentions provide us with relevant blog sources where you can comment, post, and collaborate with bloggers who talk about the same topics. This is directly related to a robust link-building strategy which is one of the keys to rank higher in searches.
6. Targeting efficiency in the long run
If you don't tweak your keywords, you'll soon exhaust your mention limit. For most tools, the mentioned limit is for a whole month, but some of the tools churn out somewhere between 5k-10k mentions per hour for common keywords. A helpful tip, use long-tail keywords better if they are under exact match criteria. This will significantly reduce the pace by which the tool scours for mention across the web. Take all the help you need from Google Keyword Planner and focus on getting lesser but relevant mentions. You'll always need the extra ones to track competitors.
You can use the following parameters to compare different tools in the initial phase.
The parameters we chose to compare the above tools:
- Publish: Can we publish and automate postings?
- Social Mentions: Can we track conversation and keywords on social media?
- Web Mentions: Can we track keywords on websites, blogs, and forums?
- Historical Mentions: Can we track older social/web mentions?
- Engagement: Can we like/follow/comment from the tool itself?
- Searches: Can we track conversations containing our keywords and topics?
In addition to the above, user experience, initial setup, and operation were also taken into account.
In terms of costs, each tool had a different set of parameters based on mention count, number of users with access, etc. But overall, we focused on three primary parameters:
- Number of mentions
- Number of keywords/alerts/topics available
- Number of users
We did a trial run for all the aforementioned tools and spent a chunk of time on selected ones, i.e., Mention Locobuzz and Awario. These three tools checked out most of our requirements but came with their own set of limitations. For instance,
The tool is relatively easy to set up and operate. It doesn't provide historical mentions and can only show posts from the time we start tracking mentions.
Also, available mention count is low as compared to its counterparts
Another tool that checked out all our requirements but came with a significant limitation. The tool lacked the feature of tracking keyword-related conversations on Facebook. It was unable to provide a healthy mix of social and web mentions. Also, it was difficult to operate and required constant assistance from the support team.
The only drawback is that we cannot post, schedule, or automate our social/web postings. But on other parameters, Awario performs better as compared to its counterparts. It provides a healthy mix of social and web mentions, available mention count is high, and the tool is easy to set up and operate without constant assistance.
We finally picked Awario as it suited best to our needs and requirements. We were able to enhance relevance with the help of long-tail keywords and pause and resume tracking according to our will. Following are some of the main pointers which helped us choose Awario over other social listening tools:
1. Historical mentions
We can track as well as filter mentions according to custom periods across social and web channels
2. Healthy mix of mentions
Awario churns out a good proportion of web mentions (around 40% of total LT keyword mentions) which is sometimes relatively low for other tools (about 5-10%). Also, we can pause social/web tracking whenever we need to.
3. High mention count
Awario provides 30K mentions in its starter pack (29$/month), which is relatively high, whereas the Mention tool only provides 5K mentions in its starter pack at the exact cost.
4. Scope of improving efficiency
With the help of exact match long-tail keywords, we could bring drive relevancy and prevent exhaustion of our mention limit. There is still potential to bring further efficiency with the help of other match types, better keyword research, and tracking sources relevant to us.
For instance, in the country filter, use Greenland to stop tracking as there are close to zero mentions from the region.
Another interesting filter is to sort mentions according to account followers or likes. Indeed, to get the maximum out of your engagement efforts, you need to engage with those posts or pages which already enjoy a considerable following. With Awario, it is easy to filter out those mentions. Moreover, blog and website mentions come with traffic data and influence scores, making it easier to find relevant mentions.
What do we do with Awario?
For now, we use Awario to listen to industry-related topics relevant to us. For instance, Empuls is our employee engagement tool, and in the same case, we track across social and web channels using Awario. With the help of this tool, we can find relevant social posts and blogs where we engage in driving traffic to our website and blog page.
It also opens up avenues to collaborate with relevant bloggers who can help drive even more traffic towards us and help us improve our domain authority.
Below are some of the results which we got a month after incorporating social Listening into our overall social media marketing plan (source: Acquisition, Google Analytics)
1. Social: With the help of Listening and overall social media marketing efforts, we were able to perform on some key metrics. According to the above chart, more than 100% of new users came to websites and blog pages from social sources. The same is reflected in the number of sessions.
2. Referral: Similarly, our website registered a healthy number of users from web sources with substantial increment over the previous month.
For now, Awario best fulfils our general and business-specific needs, but you may end up with a different one. This is not a recommendation for Awario Tool, but a piece that chalks out the importance of Social Listening for most businesses and individuals out there. The journey is for an individual like you who can take practical inputs, which will come in handy when searching and finding an ideal tool.
"Brand is just a perception, and perception will match with reality over time."